One fall day in 2011 local resident, Angela Harris, was walking along Main Street in Little Falls and ran into fellow resident, Jayne Ritz. The two began discussing the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the textile mill strikes of 1912 in Little Falls. Soon after, Harris saw another community member, Nan Ressue, who also mentioned the strikes. The seed was planted and curiosity got the best of her, so Harris began her quest for information on these events. Once she discovered that the strikes encompassed a variety of elements including factories, tenements, immigrants, women strikers, the tuberculosis epidemic, child labor and more, Harris realized that this movement was worth commemorating. She reflected upon her career teaching literature, writing and reading, she decided to write a play based upon her research with the aspiration to reach a wider audience and educate them on this local history.
According to Harris, she read through “what felt like acres of newspaper accounts, both online and with the resources of the Herkimer County Historical Society.” Settling on readers theater as a format, she began penning her original play. Aside from one composite character, the Woman Striker, she used actual historical figures and their words.
Harris approached Matt Powers of Little Falls and secured him to direct the production, and then the cast was created consisting of Barbara Albrecht, Bob Albrecht, Ginny Clapp, Katie Drake, Bob Gassmann, Jeanne McAvoy, Laura Powers, Rob Richard, Tom Stock, and Frank Wilcox. Several others participated in reviewing Harris’ work including Jeff and Pat Gressler and Louis Baum of the Little Falls Historical Society. Preserve Our Past also greatly contributed to the 100-year commemoration activities.
Exactly 100 years to the day that the strike began, Strike Story debuted on October 9, 2012 in the Black Box Theater located within one of the historic mill buildings. Several performances followed in both Little Falls and Ilion with additional cast members Cynthia Quackenbush, Al McDowell, and Christine Lenahan-Brust. On the heels of Strike Story, LiFT (Little Falls Theater) was born and has since continued to thrive in the Mohawk Valley as a key part of the entertainment and cultural life of Little Falls bringing other original pieces to the stage as well as over 20 performances of 5 Shakespeare plays.
Following the Strike Story performances, Harris worked to publish her book on the production and the events of 1912. A few years later, another book would be in production as well, only this would be created by a one-time audience member to Strike Story. Robbin Henderson, granddaughter of Matilda Rabinowitz who was a leader in the textile mill strikes, began working on a book project of her own.
Henderson’s family found Matilda’s memoirs after she passed away and they deposited it along with other papers in the labor archives in the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her grandmother’s story has inspired her from the first time she read it in her 20’s. Henderson shares, “I was indeed inspired by the Little Falls Historical Society’s commemoration of the strike in 2012. The work and imagination that went into the celebration – the play, the re-enactments, the displays downtown and at the Historical Society along with the opportunity to read from Matilda’s memoir made me realize that I wasn’t the only person who thought my grandmother deserved to be better recognized for her agitation on behalf of her fellow workers and for the working class.”
Henderson’s book, appropriately titled “Matilda Rabinowitz – Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman” includes over 160 illustrations and commentary provided by Henderson. The formal book launch is scheduled for October 24 at the Institute for Workplace Studies in Manhattan. In addition to the upcoming book launch, Matilda was celebrated earlier this year when she was inducted into the Labor’s International Hall of Fame, located in Detroit MI, on May 18, which was a welcomed surprise to her family.
Henderson explains, “The warm hospitality that was offered in Little Falls to me and my husband is remembered with gratitude.” The city is pleased to welcome the return of their very special guest later this month for a weekend of historic celebration. LiFT brings their revival of Strike Story to Travelodge on Friday, October 27 at 7 pm with special guest, Robbin Henderson. A limited number of Henderson’s books will be available for sale, along with copies of Harris’ book. Harris will offer book signings. Ticket prices for the show are $5. Guests are invited to arrive early as there will be a cash bar available prior to and during the performance.
Laura Powers, who reads for Matilda shares, “I am thrilled to portray her grandmother again and will do my best to honor her memory. Matilda was one remarkable woman!”
On Saturday, October 28, Henderson teams up with the Little Falls Historical Society, who initially reached out to her in 2012, to provide a presentation at 7 pm at the WCA located 534 Garden Street. She will share history on her grandmother and the textile mill strikes in addition to exploring the process of bringing “Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman” to life. Additional copies of her book will be for sale during the presentation and Henderson will offer a book signing. Guests who attend Friday’s play and purchase a book may bring it to the WCA presentation Saturday and meet Henderson.
Maps will be provided free of charge to guests at both events that highlight locations specific to the textile mill strikes. Folks are encouraged to explore the “Footsteps of the Strike” for self-guided walking or driving tours on Sunday. Of course, these 8 unique sites important to the strike remain available throughout the year for visits.
For more information regarding the Strike Story revival and Henderson’s presentation at WCA, visit the “LiFT Theater Company” and the “Little Falls NY Historical Society” Facebook pages, or www.lift-theater.org and www.lfhistoricalsociety.com.